Whatever became of Windows 95?

by Alan Zisman (c) 1996. First published in Computer Player, May 1996

If you believed the hype all last summer, August 24th was going to be the first day of a new age for personal computer?perhaps, in fact, a the first day of a New Age.

?Start Me Up?. A grey button with a multi-coloured Windows logo, floated in a blue sky, in front of fluffy, white clouds. The dawn of an age when we all will easily make full use of the ever-increasing power of personal computers, for work, for play, for information, for connections with time and distance no barrier.

Now, somewhat less than a year later, the reality is somewhat more than ?Windows 95? Who?? but quite a bit less than promised by the hype.

Personally, I?ve been running Windows 95 for over a year and a half?starting with over a dozen different beta versions, for nearly a year before its official release. It is the computing platform that I use most often. I co-moderate the Windows 95 discussion group on the international Fido BBS network. From my own experiences, and from monitoring an average of 200 message a day from Win 95 users?fans and critics, I think I have some idea of the reality of Windows 95 (and if you disagree, you can send me e-mail).

First of all, Windows 95 is a computer operating system for modern PCs? the 1990s descendants of  that IBM Personal Computer. And ultimately, that?s all it is. One of several competing modern OS?s for that platform?along with OS/2, NT, Linux, and more? not a cure for AIDs, not world peace or full employment, not even a zero-calorie fat-substitute. Just an operating system. It?s important to keep perspective on these things!

All those operating systems have their strong points, and their uses, and each has its fans. Even older OS?s like DOS or Windows 3.x may be preferable, depending on the mix of hardware and software in use in a particular system. I?m not going to suggest that Windows 95 (or any of the other alternatives) is the ideal system for all users at all times? in fact, at the school where I teach, on our mix of machines ranging from 386SX-16s to 486-66s, we run DOS and Windows 3.1?and it?s going to be a long time before we get enough machines with powerful enough CPUs, large enough hard drives, and enough RAM to convince me to switch.

And ironically, Windows 95?s main competition isn?t OS/2. It?s not the Macintosh. It?s not even Microsoft?s other alternative 32-bit operating system, Windows NT. It?s plain old DOS and Windows 3.1. Millions of machines remain in use like the ones at my school?functioning reasonably well with the old generation of operating systems, and lacking the oomph for any of the new generation. And they?re going to remain in use for years to come.

At the same time, there are also many millions of machines that could be running Win 95 (or OS/2 for that matter)? machines with a 486 or better processor, 8 megs or more ram, and some hard drive space to spare. But whether these machines are at home or at work, their owners don?t see any compelling reason to switch. And maybe they?re right. Until there?s a real reason to make the switch?until the so-called killer app that only runs on the new platform, many people may be best off with the guidelines of that old cliché, if it ain?t broke, don?t fix it!


Despite all that, Windows 95 remains a big improvement over the old DOS/Windows combination. And for many users, it is the best current choice for an operating system? certainly if, like 85% or more computer users, you?re going to stick with the PC platform.

? The interface solves many of the problems that new computer users have with DOS and Windows 3.1?the Taskbar, for example, makes it difficult to ?lose? programs, when they get covered with another program?s window. As Macintosh users have been saying for a decade, long file names are a much more intuitive way to work, and reduce many users? frustrations tremendously. (And with utilities such as Vertisoft?s Name-It, they can be used, even with most old, Windows 3.1 applications?if you have Windows 95).

Note, however, that it is a new way of working?DOS and Windows 3.1 power users will often find it frustrating, at least until they spend enough time to learn its tricks and quirks. For instance, it isn?t necessary to mouse-click through four or five levels of Start menus to get to your frequently-used programs? put shortcuts in a folder on your Desktop for easy access. While the default interface was created with new users in mind, it is enormously customizable?if you take the time to learn how. And yes, there should be a better printed manual.

? -- Several of Windows 3.1?s weaknesses have been greatly improved. The system resource problem, causing Windows to report that it was ?out of memory?, even with lots of RAM left, has disappeared. The result is much more stability, even when running large numbers of older, 16-bit programs. While Windows 95 lacks the ability of OS/2 or NT to run Win 3.1-style programs in pre-emptorily multitasked windows, for most users, that doesn?t matter. (Yes, it would have been nice to have the option, which reportedly was left out of Win95 in order to meet the target of running within 4 megs of RAM?something that it doesn?t do very well, in my opinion, anyway).

? Plug and Play isn?t perfect, but it can be a huge improvement for many users. This is particularly true for any user of a recent portable with a PC Card slot?plug that modem in, and have it instantly recognized. Connect to the network, all without having to reboot or fuss with different driver sets. Anyone who has had to guess at PC hardware IRQ and DMA settings will be pleased with Control Panel?s Device Manager?even working with old, so-called legacy devices on an older, non-P?n?P system.

? Game players finally get some respect. More and more DOS games are running properly, directly from Windows 95, and being able to use Windows mouse, sound, and CD-ROM drivers. And for those that won?t run that way, Win 95?s MSDOS Mode lets them have the control of the computer that they crave?without having to resort to the infamous boot disk. Unfortunately, Microsoft has done an inadequate job of explaining how games players can properly customize MSDOS Mode? and even worse, if you buy a new system with Win 95 pre-installed, you may not even get the DOS drivers you need to use your CD-ROM or sound card in that mode. (Go back to your dealer and insist on getting those drivers!). Microsoft is continuing to push Win 95 as a gaming platform, and seems to realize that this is vital to its success in the home market.

? With its mid-1995 release, Windows 95 was inevitably over-shadowed by the Internet. Win 95 offers solid, built-in Internet connectivity (just add a Web browser such as Netscape or Microsoft?s free Internet Explorer). Increasingly, newer features such as Java support will appear in Windows 95 versions first (if they ever appear in 16-bit, Win 3.1 versions at all).

? Windows 95 offers many advantages for many business users. It includes good networking support, both for Novell and NT networks, as well as built-in peer-to-peer networking. As well, while the transition from 16-bit, Win 3.1 business software to 32-bit Windows 95/NT software will be slower than many predicted, it is inevitable. Many businesses are thinking of skipping Windows 95, and jumping directly to Windows NT as their next upgrade step?but this does require more RAM and hard drive space, and while the expected next version of NT, version 4.0 will add a Windows 95-style interface, Plug and Play will be more limited even in that version of NT.

(By the way, get the Service Pack? some users have been holding off upgrading to avoid the inevitable Version 1.0 problems. Win 95, while not perfect, has been remarkably stable. Microsoft has released a collection of basicly minor fixes, however, as a free upgrade?called Service Pack 1. The price is right, and it?s available over the Internet or other on-line sources, as a 1.2 meg file. Alternatively, Microsoft will mail you a copy for a small postage and handling fee. There is also a 14 floppy (get the CD-ROM version), which also includes a huge number of driver additions and updates, and a bunch of stuff mostly of interest to network administrators? but the core upgrades are identical to the single-floppy version. This is not Windows 96, and according to Microsoft, there will be no Windows 96).

? Despite rumours to the contrary, Microsoft isn?t going to merge the NT and 95 platforms anytime soon? there are too many home users, portable users, and other users with enough oomph to run Windows 95, who won't have or enough CPU, RAM, or hard drive space for NT (or need its industrial-strength security, or be willing to take the performance hit required for that security). Windows 95 and its successors will be with us for a while.

A few things I can?t stand?

I?ll work with DOS and Win 3.1 and OS/2 and the Mac, but my current choice is Windows 95. Still, there are a few things I?d change about it (as well as lots of things I have changed, by customizing the interface). There are also a few things I absolutely dislike.

? Explorer, the File Manager replacement is more usable than its detractors claim? but it can take too many mouse clicks to perform operations that ought to be simple. Try to rename a bunch of files? something that is easy either in DOS, or in File Manager. If you prefer to view file extensions, it?s impossible to sort files by extensions? sorting by Microsoft?s idea of  File Type simply isn?t the same thing. You can use the old File Manager?Win 95 puts it on the hard drive, even in a new installation, but doesn?t install an icon for it (type ?winfile? in the Start Menu?s Run command)? but that lacks long file name support. Couldn?t we get the NT version, which has support for long file names?

? Documentation is virtually non-existent. Help files are not good enough? neither is the difficult to read Windows 95 Resource Kit, buried deep in a sub-directory (er, excuse me, sub-folder) on the CD-ROM version. While it?s designed to be much more discoverable than Win 3.1, and is, in fact, much easier for a new user to get up and running quickly, it is difficult to learn middle-level operations, such as customizing the desktop, or setting up your CD-ROM and sound cards to work in MSDOS Mode. There should be a warning sticker on the outside of the CD-ROM or floppy container warning that use of DOS-era disk utilities (such as older versions of Norton Utilities or PC Tools) can cause damage to Win 95?s long file name structures. Too many users have only found this out after the fact.

? I hate Exchange. This would-be one-stop mail and fax center was dumbed-down near the end of the beta-period, when Microsoft discovered that virtually no one could figure out how to use it. It?s still far too complicated, and far too slow. I?ll stick to the free version of Qualcomm?s Eudora, for Internet mail, thank you, especially now that a solid beta 32-bit version is out. Unfortunately, you have to use Exchange to access mail via the Microsoft Network, another bit of Win 95 that hasn?t lived up to expectations? partly too slow, and partly again, over-shadowed by the Internet. In fact, the most interesting thing about Microsoft Network is seeing how quickly Microsoft is back-pedalling, and essentially converting it into a combination Internet Service Provider/Web page.

? A false sense of  security. A nice feature of Win 95 is the way users can set different desktops for different users? but when users log in, they may be asked to type in a password. While this creates a sense of security, all that?s needed to log in without the password is to press escape. Some security! Microsoft obviously wants users who need a secure system to get NT? but this bogus password system lets people feel secure?when they?re not.

Not a revolution, but a success

Win 95 is a success, perhaps more in spite of the over-hyped expectations. In has sold millions of copies (though not as many as in the most wild predictions), and is pre-installed on most new computers. While lacking some of the power features of OS/2, NT, or Unix, it is more compatible with DOS and Windows 3.1 software than any of its competitors?especially for game-players. It?s a great choice, particularly for portable users. It?s not going to wipe out DOS or Win 3.1 overnight?or OS/2, the Mac, or NT? but it (or its immediate descendants) is going to continue to gain market share over the rest of the decade.


Read This First?Windows 95 Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the collection of Windows 95 tips posted weekly as the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) file on the international FIDO Win 95 topic echo. This echo, available over thousands of free BBS systems (but not on the Internet) is, in my humble opinion, the best source of ongoing information and support for Windows 95 users.

1) Can I run Win 95 on a __________ with ___ megs of ram?

? Microsoft says Win 95 will run on a 386DX with at least 4 megs of ram... some people have reported running it on 386SX machines as well. While some people have used it on 4 meg machines, the general consensus is that 8 megs is a more satisfying minimum amount.

? You'll need 35 megs or more free hard drive space.

2) Do I have to format my hard drive before installing Win 95?

? No.

3) Can I easily uninstall Win 95 if I find I don't like it?

? If you choose to SAVE SYSTEM SETTINGS, early in the Setup process, you'll be able to uninstall Win95 by choosing Control Panel/Add-Remove Programs, and clicking on Windows 95.

Note that this option takes about 6 megs of drive space for the saved information.

Otherwise you're best off to back up your drive before running Setup, and keeping a bootable system disk with your old DOS and the SYS command. That will allow you to restore your old system if desired.

4) Installation fails on disk 2 of the floppy set:

? Hard drives that were infected with viruses such as MONKEY produce this, infecting floppy disks 1 & 2 and aborting the installation.

Phone Microsoft, who will send out new disks... and make sure to open the write protect window before installing!

5) Does the Dial-up-registration process send private information from my hard drive to Microsoft?

? Dial-Up-Registration does look on your hard drive and makes a list of specific, well-known applications that are present there... it does not, however, check for anything else-- pirated software, private data, etc., and does not send anything without your express permission. If the process makes you uneasy, register by more traditional methods.

6) How do I copy the Win 95 floppy disks?

? The floppy disks are formatted to 1.7 megs, and can't be copied with normal diskcopy routines (including DOS or Win 95). There are several shareware utilities such as DCF (version 5 or later) or Win Image, that can be used to make copies of these disks.

7) How can I boot to a DOS prompt instead of WIN 95?

? Edit the new text system file, MSDOS.SYS (first resetting the hidden and read-only attributes). Change the line:


to read


8) How can I have the option to boot to my old DOS and Windows?

? If you install Win95 to a new directory, you can multibook to either Win95 or your old DOS/Windows. To do that, you need to edit the new text system file, MSDOS.SYS (first resetting the hidden and read-only attributes). Add the line:


to the [options] section.

Note-- do not delete the C:\*.DOS files-- these are your old DOS versions, needed for the multiboot option.

9) Can I get rid of the Cloud Screen on bootup?

? If you press the ESC key at bootup, the cloud screen will not appear, and you can see the DOS boot messages. To get rid of the clouds permanently, you can edit the MSDOS.SYS file (see above), adding the line:


to the [options] section.

10) How can I stop being asked for a log on password each time Win 95 starts up?

? Go to Control Panel/Network, and check the options for Primary Log On. Select Windows Log On. If you're asked to log on the next time you start Win 95, press Enter.

11) Why do I have less free DOS memory after installing Win 95? (Alternatively-- Do I still need a DOS memory manager with Win 95)?

? Win95 doesn't, by default, load a DOS memory manager such as EMM386 or QEMM, and doesn't create upper memory blocks or load Command.com, DOS drivers, or DOS TSRs into upper memory. As a result, even though it makes many or most DOS drivers and TSRs unneeded, users can still end up with less free DOS (conventional) memory.

Just as with older DOS versions, you can load a DOS memory manager. To use DOS's EMM386.EXE, for example, add the line:


to your CONFIG.SYS file, with the RAM or NOEMS parameter depending whether you want it to create EMS memory or not.

Then, add the line


to Config.sys, and change all the DEVICE= lines (except HIMEM.SYS and EMM386.sys) to DEVICEHIGH=

Similarly, add LH (or LOADHIGH) to the beginning of any lines in Autoexec.bat that load DOS TSR programs.

Reboot and check the amount of free DOS ram, using the DOS MEM command. (MEM /C /P for a more detailed report).

12) How do I set parameters for a DOS program?

? Find the file that starts the DOS program, in Explorer or My Computer. Right click on its icon, and choose Properties from the pop-up menu, then the Program Page. This allows you to set many properties of memory use. You can point to a startup.bat file that will be run automatically when the program starts up, providing many custom features, but not providing a customized config.sys.

If you need custom config and autoexec settings (similar to using a custom boot disk), click on the Advanced button, and choose to run the program in MSDOS Mode. This allows you to create custom config and autoexec settings for that program.

Doing this for the file "Exit to DOS.PIF" will allow you to modify the settings for the Start Menu's Shutdown/Restart in MSDOS Mode option.

13) I need to use a backup program or disk utility designed for an older version of DOS or Windows. How can I do so safely?

? In order to avoid damage to your Win 95 Long File Names (LFNs), you need to run the LFNBK.EXE utility. It can be found on the CD-ROM disk, in the \WIN95\ADMIN\APPTOOLS\LFNBK folder

Before running your backup program (etc) run LFNBK /B to backup your LFNs. Afterwards, run LFNBK /R to restore the LFNs.

(Note: there is also a shareware DOSKFNBK program, that has more capabilities-- well worth tracking down).

14) My CD-ROM drive lights up briefly every few seconds.

? You have it set for AutoPlay, and it is checking to see if a disk has been inserted in the drive. Go to Control Panel/System and click on the CD-ROM... select Properties/Settings, and turn off Auto Insert Notification.

15) Do I still need my old CONFIG and AUTOEXEC files?

? Your DOS startup files may be unnecessary. They are useful in several situations, however:

a) If you want to edit some of the defaults, such as PATH, BUFFERS, etc.

b) If you have hardware that doesn't have WIN95 drivers yet, and you need to load DOS device drivers or TSRs.

c) If you want to set up a multiple boot-configuration... the DOS 6.2 commands for this still work.

16) I can't get 32-bit internet programs such as Netscape to work with my old Trumpet Winsock.

? You need a 32-bit Winsock to run 32-bit internet software. You can install the Microsoft TCP/IP networking protocol from Control Panel/Network, and install Dial-Up-Networking from Control Panel/Add Programs. It supports PPP connections. For SLIP, you'll need to add the SLIP driver from the CD-ROM's \WIN95\APPTOOLS\SLIP folder.

You'll need to configure this for your Internet Service Provider's settings-- your old Trumpet script will no longer work. (Note: there is a new, 32-bit Trumpet Winsock available if you want to upgrade from the 16-bit version, rather than using Win95's Dial Up Networking).

17) How can I get the INBOX/MSN/Network Neighborhood/My Briefcase (etc) icon off my desktop?

? While there are complicated ways to edit the Registry to accomplish any of these, much simpler is to download the file TWEAKUI or POWERTOYS (which includes TweakUI among other features) from MSN or www.microsoft.com or other online sources. It installs as a Control Panel icon-- its desktop tab includes options to easily remove the icons of your choice.

(PowerToys are a collection of user interface add-ons written by Microsoft programmers, but not supported as part of the standard package. They are available for free, and some --especially TweakUI, are quite useful).

18) What is the Internet address of xxxxxxxx?

? For many if not most commercial organizations, a Web address of http://www.xxxxxxxx.com/ is worth a try-- how about trying that before posting a message?

(i.e. http://www.microsoft.com, http://www.adobe.com, etc.)

19) How can I get Dial-up-Networking to save my password?

? You need to add a Networking client in order for D-U-N to remember your password. (No, I don't know why...)

Open Control Panel, choose Network, click on the ADD button, then choose a Network Client-- Microsoft Network Client (which has nothing to do with the Microsoft on-line service) works well. You'll be asked for your installation floppies or CD disc.

Alternatively (thanks Carl Morris!), if you set Win95 for multiple users, it will remember your password for your Internet account. To do this, go to Control Panel/Passwords/User Profiles, and select the [x] Users can customize... option. Of course, then, you'll be asked for a password when you start Win95!

20) Can someone please tell me how to get HyperTerminal to display better ANSI graphics when I call a BBS ?  I get the right text and colors, but then instead of nice bars and lines there's nothing but strange characters.

? HyperTerminal (and other Windows comm programs) will do that, if the font that they are using does not include the PC-DOS line drawing characters... most Windows fonts don't.

Pick from one of the ones that do, and the problem will disappear... you can use HyperTerminal's View/Font option for this-- but unfortunately, you'll have to do it separately for each different HT icon you use.

TERMINAL (included w. Win 3.x and Win95)
MS LINE DRAW (included w. many Microsoft applications)
MINITEL ARIEL fonts (included in the far corners of the Win95 CD-ROM).

21) What's this Microsoft Plus! Pack-- do I need it to run Win95?

? Microsoft released the Plus! Pack at the same time as the main Win95 package, as a collection of add-on features. While you might find some of the features useful or entertaining, they are not necessary to get full use of Win95, and are not recommended for users of 386 machines.

Included in the Plus! Pack are:
-- System Agent, allowing users to schedule regular use of Defrag, Scandisk, or other utilities
-- Dial-Up-Server, to let other machines connect to yours
-- DriveSpace 3, allowing larger compressed partitions, and more features than the DriveSpace that is included with Win95 (but with the penalty of a 100+kb driver in MSDOS Mode, which makes it unusable for many who rely on that mode to play games, etc).
-- Internet mail add-on for Exchange, a nice Internet Connection Wizard, and Internet Explorer ver 1.0 web browser (note that these, along with more recent versions of Internet Explorer are freely available via on-line sources)
-- A collection of Desktop Themes: wallpaper, screen-savers, sounds, and icons on themese ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Sports
-- A 3-D Pinball Game
-- etc.

--> It's entirely a matter of personal opinion whether it's worth about $49 (US).

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan